Categories
Brampton Infrastructure Politics Transit

Terminal Gateway: how bad decisions will affect the safety thousands of daily transit riders

Brampton Gateway Terminal from the southeast corner of Hurontario Street and Steeles Avenue, Brampton

Last month, Metrolinx held a virtual open house to present information on the progress of the Hurontario LRT project, planned work, and details on some of the stops along the line. For now, roadwork is limited to median removal and utility relocation, but by next year, heavy construction will commence along the 18-kilometre long corridor.

I was hoping to get some information on the northern terminus, at Steeles Avenue in Brampton, but no details were provided. I took the opportunity to ask specific questions about the transfer between the LRT and local buses, but I was disappointed by the answer.

If Metrolinx goes ahead with their plans for a minimal station on the south side of the intersection, anyone connecting between modes will be forced to cross two sides of a busy, hazardous intersection at grade, impacting both accessibility and safety. We can thank politicians on the 2014-2018 Brampton City Council for this situation, which provide just one of many examples of how systemic racism manifests in transit decision making.

Categories
About me Politics Toronto Walking

On right turns, advocacy, and civic democracy

DeputationOn Wednesday, March 11, I deputed to the Infrastructure and Environment Committee at Toronto City Hall in support of a motion by Councillor Mike Layton to have city staff examine and report back on expanding right turn on red (RTOR) restrictions in the City of Toronto.

Though I had the time and willingness to attend the committee meeting and speak to city councillors, I attended on behalf of Walk Toronto, and the motion was primarily written by my colleague Daniella Levy-Pinto, with input from myself and several other steering committee members.

I found myself much more relaxed deputing this time, especially compared to my deputation late last year to the Toronto Police Services Board. Taking a continuing education course on public speaking and presentations helped, as did increased confidence, and a less intimidating environment.

Fellow advocacy group Friends and Families for Safe Streets’ Jess Speiker spoke first to the motion, at 21 minutes; I speak at the 26 minute mark.

We argue for blanket RTOR prohibitions, rather than simply at selected intersections, for several reasons. red A citywide or neighborhood ban of right on red would eliminate the cost of creating, installing, maintaining, and replacing prohibition signs at each intersection. Too many signs create a visual overload. Furthermore, eliminating right turns on red only at selected locations is problematic in terms of predictability: some vulnerable road users will have difficulty determining what rules are in place at a particular intersection; Montreal, New York, and Mexico City already prohibit right turns on red. It’s time that Toronto seriously debate the idea, and work towards implementing such a ban.

Meanwhile, while the city has implemented leading pedestrian signals at many intersections, their effectiveness is limited by allowing right turns during the leading pedestrian signal, when the red light is still on. Montreal, which has a slightly different implementation, allows through traffic, including cyclists, to proceed with the first few seconds of the walk signal, while turning vehicles must wait.

Though the Infrastructure and Environment Committee adopted Councillor Layton’s motion, it also passed amendments proposed by Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong. Minnan-Wong’s amendments asked for, among other things, a report on the impact that Vision Zero measures have on traffic conditions, and how those traffic delays and congestion have increased stress on drivers.

So, by the deputy mayor’s logic, congestion and traffic safety measures are causing drivers to be aggressive and that is why pedestrians and cyclists continue to be killed on our streets.


Wednesday made for a good lesson on the challenges of grassroots advocacy and participating in local democracy. Recently, City Council voted to increase security at city hall by requiring all visitors to submit to bag searches and metal detector scans, hardly a friendly sight at Toronto’s seat of governance, originally designed to be a welcoming place for all people. Although the committee meeting started at 9:30 AM, it broke for lunch at 12:30, before getting to Councillor Layton’s motion. That meant that I had to leave for lunch, line up again and go through security, before speaking around 2:00 PM. Any citizen with a day job or other commitments wishing to participate in local democracy is at a disadvantage.

But I am glad I had the time and opportunity to speak up for something important.

Categories
Ontario Politics Toronto Transit Walking

The consequences of losing the GO-TTC discount

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When the Toronto subway system was extended by six stops to York University and Vaughan, it marked the first time the TTC’s rapid transit system extended beyond the city’s boundaries. But it also exposed a major failing of the Golden Horseshoe’s transit structure: the complete lack of fare integration.

In 2017, the provincial government announced a new fare discount between the TTC and GO Transit, which operates the region’s commuter rail and bus network. This $1.50 fare discount, available to Presto card users, was funded by the previous Liberal government’s fledgling cap-and-trade carbon pricing scheme, with the promise of further fare adjustments (such as discounts for transferring between the TTC and other suburban transit agencies, such as York Region Transit and Miway) to come.

With the election of the Progressive Conservatives in 2018, the cap-and-trade scheme was cancelled, and with it, the continued funding for the GO-TTC fare discount. That discount is set to come to an end on March 31, 2020. Neither the cash-strapped TTC or Metrolinx, the provincial agency responsible for GO Transit and transit planning, will step up to make up the difference.

IMG_7865-001GO Transit buses used to stop right in front of Vari Hall, in the heart of York University’s campus

Though many regular GO rail commuters will feel the impact of the loss of the fare discount, the impact on York University students and staff will be especially felt. That’s because the new subway extension was planned to remove GO Transit buses from the heart of the campus to a purpose-built terminal at a remote new subway station next to Highway 407. I recently wrote about the problematic fare structure on those GO buses serving Highway 407 Station. Now, those commuters going two more stops will pay $6.40 a day in TTC fares on top of those expensive GO fares.

Unless they decide to walk to campus.

On Thursday, March 5, I tried do just that. It was not a pleasant experience.

Highway 407 Station features a large bus terminal for GO Transit and YRT buses, a passenger drop-off and pick-up area, and a commuter lot. But it was not built with pedestrians in mind. That’s understandable. The only places within a few minutes’ walk are Beechwood Cemetery across the street, a warehouse, and the employee entrance to a major UPS parcel centre.

The main — and only authorized — entrance is on the opposite side of Jane Street, facing the passenger drop-off/pick-up area and the parking lot. It is quite clear in the design that most passengers would be transferring between bus and subway, perhaps with the idea that the fare boundary issue would be resolved by the time the station was open.

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Jane Street, with the entrance to Highway 407 on the right, and Beechwood Cemetery on the left

The vertical circulation prioritizes bus-subway connections. At the bus platform level, I spotted a sign that said “to street, subway” leading to a downwards escalator. But it led me past the mezzanine level straight to the subway fare gates. I had to climb halfway up to get to the entrance doors.

IMG_7848-001The stained glass at Highway 407 glows in the late afternoon sun. But it doesn’t take away from a poor user experience.

Once outside, I noted that the pedestrian path between the parking lot and the passenger waiting area was completely covered by a giant dirty snow pile. It’s clear that pedestrians are not welcome here.

Snow left on the only legal sidewalk leading out of Highway 407 Station

The circuitous route is designed to keep pedestrians out of the way of the buses entering and exiting the station. But I was left wondering why a shorter, direct, and snow-free route was not designed into the station plan at the beginning. It would have cut a few minutes from my efforts in leaving the station.

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Pedestrians are barred from the more direct route into the station, even though the bus terminal is not a TTC fare-paid area.

Eventually, I made it to Jane Street, and began walking south towards Steeles Avenue and campus. The narrow sidewalk hugs Jane Street, and right into a splash zone under the CN Railway underpass.

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An unpleasant walk along Jane Street

After twenty-seven minutes, I made it to Pioneer Village Station, which was designed with two separate bus terminals. YRT buses use the smaller bus loop on the north side of Steeles Avenue, outside the fare-paid area. TTC buses use a larger terminal south of Steeles Avenue, on the York University lands. YRT passengers headed to campus must cross Steeles Avenue at grade as the mezzanine level underneath is fully within the TTC fare paid zone. Technically, one could transfer from GO to the YRT 20 Jane bus at Highway 407 Station (with a Presto card, it would cost only $1 each way with the YRT-GO co-fare). But it would still only get you part of the way to campus.

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After 35 minutes, I made it from the GO bus platform at Highway 407 Station to the Life Sciences Building at York University, on the northwest corner of the central campus, with another 5-10 minutes to major buildings such as Vari Hall or Scott Library. This was at a relatively quick pace (I’m an able-bodied thirty-something man), in quite pleasant weather. A rainy or bitterly cold day would be quite a different matter. Therefore, most will be forced to pay $3.20 each way (the current TTC Presto fare).

The subway, with the major GO and YRT terminals off campus, was designed for a new fare structure where students and university staff wouldn’t be penalized for having to transfer one or two subway stops to get to the middle of campus. The most we got was a fare discount for GO Transit riders, with nothing for YRT commuters. (Only Brampton Transit continues to directly serve York University.) And now that meagre fare concession is going away, because no one wants to pay for it.

Sadly, this is just further evidence of how we get transit so wrong in the Golden Horseshoe, despite it being the country’s economic heartland.


Transit advocacy group TTC Riders, along with allies at York University, have been calling on Queen’s Park to continue to fund the fare discount. You can find out more here.

I also expect that the opposition New Democrats will submit a motion in the legislature to maintain funding for the discount next week. I’ll update this post as necessary.

Categories
Politics Toronto Transit

The TTC needs customer buy-in, not a campaign of scolding its passengers

IMG_7472-003Imagine any retail store welcoming its customers the way the Toronto Transit Commission does these days.

This week, at least two TTC streetcars were wrapped with messages promoting the transit agency’s new aggressive anti-fare evasion campaign. Any passenger caught by fare inspectors or special constables without a valid fare is subject to a fine of up to $425.

As a regular, fare-paying passenger, I am sympathetic to the TTC’s need to balance its books — it relies on transit fares for 68 percent of its $2.14 billion operating budget — but the more aggressive fare enforcement program — including advertisements inside vehicles and stations and hiring 50 more fare inspectors in 2020 — is insulting to its customers.

Typically, businesses and public services strive to welcome their clientele and promote themselves to potential new customers. At one time, the TTC even ran television commercials, with a particular focus on promoting off-peak ridership.

Not anymore.

Customer notices on posters and on the PA system are restricted to subway closure notices, reminders about etiquette, and now warnings of $425 fines for not tapping a Presto card. Riders are no longer thanked for using the TTC. Instead, we’re subjected to poor and inconsistent service, streetcar shortages, regular weekend subway closures, fare hikes, and repeals of recent fare integration measures, along with lectures on fare payment.

Other transit and municipal politics writers, including Steve Munro, Matt Elliott, and Ben Spurr have written about the TTC’s push for stricter fare enforcement as well as the problems passengers have when paying, including malfunctioning Presto readers and fare payment machines, and overcrowded vehicles. Fare payment machines do not accept bank notes, debit, or credit cards. Though the TTC estimates that 5.7 percent of all riders engage in fare evasion, the rate on streetcars, where passengers board from all doors and tap or pay on board, is 15.9 percent.

There has been an inconsistent approach to fare enforcement, with inspectors commonly found at streetcar terminals at subway stations. There are reports and credible accusations of racial profiling by fare enforcement officers.

A friendlier and more wholesome approach would be addressing the technical problems, including the reliability of fare machines, and replacing generic Presto cards being used for child fares that other passengers — such as York University Station — are illegitimately using. There should also be a friendlier education campaign, enforcement discretion, and less aggressive behaviour towards customers, would make far more sense. If the TTC is truly interested in “disrupting” negative behaviour, it should adopt a customer service model, and address the distrust towards its officers from racialized and economically marginalized communities.

Putting aside the bad optics of the crackdown on fare evasion, transit ad wraps are an insult to transit riders. Furthermore, they are a detriment to the brand. Toronto’s streetcars are an icon of this great city; this is cheapened by gigantic ads for Starbucks, Sephora, or Scotiabank.

Inside, the large panoramic windows are obscured by perforated vinyl sheeting that is difficult to see out of. Though the vinyl wraps leave a sliver at seat level, the view is obstructed for anyone standing on a crowded vehicle.

IMG_5204-001A typical streetcar advertising wrap

The current 12-year, $324-million contract with Pattison Outdoor brings in a total of $27 million a year. The contract includes interior and exterior transit advertising (traditional placards, posters in stations and vehicles, and wraps). In total, advertising in all forms represents 1.1 percent of the entire TTC budget, with wraps representing a small portion of that. These wraps, commissioned by the TTC itself, are part of the contact.

Messages on the newly wrapped TTC streetcar

The streetcar wraps that scold, rather than welcome, riders are even more of an insult. What message do they send to visitors to Toronto? And what message do they send to potential riders?

Customer buy-in is about so much more than just paying one’s fare. The TTC should realize that.

Categories
Infrastructure Politics Roads Toronto Walking

Zero vision in suburban Toronto

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Though the city of Toronto has made some progress towards safer streets recently, the lack of police enforcement of traffic laws, the reluctance to spend serious money on road redesign, and the attitudes of some city officials continue to be obstacles towards making Toronto a safe place to walk and cycle.

As part of the city’s Vision Zero 2.0 Plan, City Council voted in July to reduce speed limits from 60 km/h to 50 km/h on 37 sections of arterial roadways across the city, and from 50 km/h to 40 km/h on five more roads. Councillors Ana Bailão and Jim Karygiannis moved to extend several of these sections. However, rookie councillor Cynthia Lai (Ward 23-Scarborough North) moved to amend the item to remove three sections of arterial roads in her ward:

  • Brimley Road from Sheppard Avenue East to Steeles Avenue East,
  • Markham Road from Milner Avenue to Steeles Avenue East, and
  • McCowan Road from Milner Avenue to Steeles Avenue East.

Councillor Lai claimed that her constituents were concerned about gridlock in her ward and opposed the speed restrictions. Scarborough is especially dangerous for pedestrians as it has the most kilometres of high-speed arterial roads in the city and the longest distances between crosswalks.

High speeds and dangerous driving are major problems in Ward 23, a part of the city that I visit a few times a month. Brimley, Markham, and McCowan Roads are designed solely for car traffic: they are lined by plazas, warehouses, and backyard fences. Traffic signals are often far apart. Markham and McCowan Roads are also high-speed thoroughfares connecting Markham to Highway 401.

Walking along McCowan Road between Finch and Steeles earlier this year, my spouse and I encountered a pedestrian refuge smashed in by a motorist. The refuge island was protected by reflective signage, as well as metal barriers, and was installed to help pedestrians cross at a TTC bus stop, though pedestrians are not given the right of way.

IMG_1644Smashed pedestrian refuge island on McCowan Road

This is why it was so disappointing to see Councillor Lai organize a “Senior Pedestrian Safety Initiative” with Toronto Police at Woodside Square, a community mall at the corner of McCowan Road and Finch Avenue. Councillor Lai, her staff, and local police were “educating” seniors about pedestrian safety, while giving out reflective armbands. Councillor Lai claimed it was part of the city’s Vision Zero strategy, and she doesn’t “think we should blame anybody.”

This was just days after a police report showed a severe decline in traffic tickets issued and extremely limited police enforcement of unsafe driving in Toronto. On the Friday before, two seniors were seriously hurt when crossing the street.

Needless to say, Councillor Lai and the Toronto Police taken to task by road safety advocates and even fellow councillors. Jessica Spieker of Friends and Families for Safe Streets called it a “form of victim blaming.”

Supporting Councillor Lai’s position, on Monday November 25, Councillor James Pasternak said “wearing high visibility clothing or reflective gear is a key part of keeping everyone safe, including pedestrians, construction workers, cyclists, police officers and crossing guards. Let’s make VisionZeroTO work.” Councillor Pasternak is Mayor John Tory’s handpicked chair of the Infrastructure and Environment Committee, which among its duties is ensuring the safety of Toronto’s road infrastructure.

Vision Zero 2.0 says nothing about armbands. Instead, the plan includes reducing speeds, road design improvements, and safer crossings at TTC stops.

Though it is always a good idea for pedestrians to be aware of their surroundings and be predictable when crossing the street, most of the responsibility falls on the city, which designs the roads, the police, who have abandoned their duty to protect road users, and drivers, who are licensed and insured to operate multi-tonne vehicles. The rash of hit-and-runs after pedestrians were struck is especially alarming.

In Waterloo, a crossing guard performing her duties was struck and seriously injured by the driver of a F-150 truck, who then fled the scene. This was the despite the school guard wearing a reflective vest, carrying a stop sign, in a marked school crosswalk. No amount of high-visibility clothing will protect pedestrians from dangerous drivers, who in Toronto this year, killed pedestrians walking on sidewalks, and injured pedestrians in transit shelters.

Ironically, Woodside Square itself was hit twice by drivers in the last two years. In December 2017, a motorist crashed through both sets of doors at the mall entrance closest to Shoppers Drug Mart. In February 2018, a motorist, possibly dealing with medical problems, crashed into several cars and into a Subway restaurant at the mall. High-visibility clothing would not have helped in either of those cases.

It’s unfortunate that a city councillor will choose giving out reflective armbands over effective speed reductions, road redesign, and traffic enforcement. Hopefully, Councillor Lai will take the criticism to heart and do better for Ward 23.

Post script: A staff report to the Infrastructure and Environment Committee in October 2019 continued the recommendation for speed reductions in Ward 23, citing minimal impacts to travel times, and the dangerous conditions on Brimley, Markham, and McCowan Roads. Staff noted that there have been 6 fatalities and 20 serious injuries incidents on those three road segments. On October 29, Council voted to lower the speed limits on Brimley, Markham, and McCowan Roads against Councillor Lai’s objections.

Categories
Politics Toronto Transit

How TIFF lost the plot

IMG_4193-001.JPG504 King Streetcar diverting onto Spadina on Thursday, September 5

For the sixth year in a row, King Street between University and Spadina Avenues was closed for four straight days. This closure was for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) “Festival Street,” which took place between Thursday September 5 and Sunday September 8. In addition, King Street was closed during the afternoon rush hours the following Monday and Tuesday for “Red Carpet Events.”

TIFF has been recognized among the world’s most important film festivals, and one where the public has the opportunity to take part (albeit at increasingly inaccessible prices for many screenings). It offers tremendous economic and cultural value to Toronto. It compliments and helps to support many other annual film festivals, such as Hot Docs and Inside Out.

But TIFF’s clout and influence has also led to entitlement, with “Festival Street” being the most disruptive result. While King Street is closed off to traffic during the film festival, it has severe effects for the 84,000 daily riders of the 504 King Street, as well as riders on the busy 501 Queen and 510 Spadina cars.

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501 Queen and 504 King Streetcars stuck in traffic westbound at Queen and Spadina

Several major TIFF screening locations are located on or near King Street West, including Roy Thomson Hall, the Princess of Wales Theatre, the TIFF Bell Lightbox, and two blocks north, the Scotiabank Cinemas. Industry parties and galas are held at nearby hotels and restaurants. It’s natural that King Street would be a hub of activity for the film festival. But it is also the third busiest transit route in Toronto, after the Yonge-University and Bloor-Danforth subways.

The King Street Pilot, which began in late 2017, prohibits through motor vehicle traffic on King Street between Jarvis and Bathurst Streets through the downtown core, though all vehicles are permitted to use King Street for short segments. Despite spotty enforcement, the pilot project allowed the TTC to operate much more reliably through the busy corridor, with an increase of capacity and ridership. In early 2017, daily ridership on the 504 King was 72,000. By March 2018, it grew to 84,000. In April, council voted to make the pilot permanent. This will allow for streetscape improvements along the corridor and wider sidewalks, with improved physical measures to further restrict through traffic.

A lot of political capital went into making King Street work better, so it is disappointing to see all that advocacy for a proper transit corridor go to waste while TIFF is in town. Torontonians are promised each year would be the last year streetcar service would be wrecked for TIFF, but every mid-August, we find out otherwise. 

Categories
Ontario Parks Politics

The province’s attack on conservation authorities

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View from the Niagara Escarpment at Mount Nemo Conservation Area towards Mississauga and Toronto

One of Ontario’s greatest success stories has been the development of conservation authorities (CAs). The provincial Conservation Authorities Act was introduced in 1946 to provide for new joint provincial-municipal bodies protect farmland and natural features from deforestation, flooding, and erosion, organized not by political boundaries, but by watersheds. In 1954, south-central Ontario was hit by Hurricane Hazel, which caused extreme and deadly flooding. This highlighted the need for strong local authorities to coordinate flood protection strategies, including dams, floodways and reservoirs, but also land use planning, the protection of headwaters, and the naturalization of important landscapes, such as the Niagara Escarpment and Toronto’s ravines. Planners at CAs help to ensure that any new development is protected from flooding or erosion and will not negatively impact other properties or the watershed as a whole.

Most of Ontario’s 36 CAs also operate conservation areas, open to the public as parklands. These may contain hiking trails, wildlife sanctuaries, campgrounds, lakes and reservoirs for swimming, boating, or fishing, as well as waterfalls, caves, scenic lookouts, or other unique natural features. A few conservation authorities also operate historic sites, including old mills, or even entire pioneer villages, such as Black Creek. Many CAs also hold special events, such as festivals, school tours, and even concerts.

Many of these programs and services are incredibly important, but all are beneficial to the public. And they are under attack by the provincial government.

Earlier this year, the province cut funding for natural hazards planning by 50 percent. Late last week, the minister for Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks, Jeff
Yurek, sent a letter to all CAs and their partner municipalities to begin to wind down any programs not directly related to their “core mandate.”

Yurek commented that “over the years, conservation authorities have expanded past their core mandate into activities such as zip-lining, maple syrup festivals and photography and wedding permits.”

One such CA, Conservation Halton, operates several conservation areas in Halton Region and the City of Hamilton.

Kelso Conservation Area includes a ski hill, a reservoir that provides for paddle boating, fishing, and a swimming beach, and a campground. There are also outdoor movie nights. At Mountsberg Conservation Area, Conservation Halton operates a Raptor Centre, where injured birds of prey are treated and shown to the public. It also has one of those maple syrup festivals in its sugar bush.

26437885398_1405516057_o.jpgFeeding chickadees at Hilton Falls Conservation Area

Conservation Halton has a $30 million annual budget, but it only gets $145,000 from the province for core programs. The rest of its funds come from municipalities and from park user fees, rentals, and sales. The festivals, event bookings and wedding permits help fund the important conservation work. Offering festivals and other special events also help engage the public, especially children.

Of course, the Doug Ford-led Progressive Conservative government’s attack on conservation authorities isn’t about saving money. Instead it’s about restricting their mandate, reducing their ability to raise funds and engage the public.

Perhaps this all has to do with the influence of the development industry. Ontario Proud, a third-party advertiser connected with the Progressive Conservatives, ran attack ads on social media and on outdoor billboards against the last Liberal government in 2016 and 2017. It was funded by the development and construction industry, with Mattamy Homes being its largest contributor. The province also weakened planning legislation and municipal power to restrict new development through Bill 108, the so-called More Homes, More Choice Act.

If the Ford government gets its way, conservation authorities will have fewer resources to protect watersheds and natural lands and reduce the risk of the effects of climate change. Without maple syrup festivals and other “non-core” programming, there will also be less fun and reduced awareness of Ontario’s wonderful natural landscape. This isn’t about fiscal responsibility. It’s about ideology and payback.

27035683581_ff87c274c6_o.jpgThere are plenty of developers who’d love to pave over the Greenbelt

Categories
Infrastructure Politics Toronto Transit

A “fantastic bonanza:” another transit plan up in smoke?

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On the CBC radio program Metro Morning on March 28, Toronto Mayor John Tory spoke about his concerns regarding Premier Doug Ford’s plans to upload the city’s subway system, as well as Ford’s intentions to build new subway extensions to Richmond Hill and Scarborough Centre, bury the Eglinton West LRT, and start the long-planned Relief Line. Instead of a conventional subway, the Relief Line envisioned by the province would use a “new technology,” despite planning and engineering underway for a subway, using an existing subway yard for Relief Line train storage.

But Tory, who has been passive so far about the province’s plans, was hopeful that the unspecified new technology proposed for the Relief Line would be a “fantastic bonanza” for Toronto, but he added that he didn’t know for sure what would come of the new plan.

It is curious that Tory called this hostile takeover a “fantastic bonanza.” Bonanza was a long-running Western television show, starring Lorne Greene as the patriarch of the Cartwright family, owners of a vast ranch on Lake Tahoe. Bonanza was famous for its theme music and opening credits, which featured a burning map of the Cartwrights’ Ponderosa ranch before introducing the cast.

Opening theme for Bonanza

Bonanza’s burning map is a great metaphor for Toronto’s transit planning. Newly elected mayors and premiers burn the maps left behind by their predecessors, and time is wasted on new feasibility studies and engineering reports, ready just in time for someone else to get elected with yet another idea. Plans come and go, but hardly anything ever gets built.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. After a prolonged spurt of subway construction in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, momentum was lost. In the 1980s, Bill Davis’ Progressive Conservatives insisted on a novel linear-induction rail system for Scarborough, rather than the light rail project already underway. The Liberals, under David Peterson, proposed several subway lines, though it was scaled back under NDP Premier Bob Rae. In 1994, work started on the first phases of the Eglinton and Sheppard subways. When Mike Harris’ government was elected in 1995, they cancelled Eglinton, filling in a hole already dug for the tunnel boring machines.

There was new hope in 2003, when a new Liberal provincial government was elected, and David Miller, an urban progressive, became mayor of Toronto. While the province’s top priority was the extension of the Spadina Subway to York University and Vaughan, it was willing to help fund major improvements to GO Transit, along with new light rail systems in Ottawa, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton, and Mississauga-Brampton. It also committed to Miller’s proposed Transit City LRT network, including a fully grade-separated replacement of the ageing Scarborough RT.

There were valid criticisms of Transit City — there were too many transfers to get around the top of the city, there was no Relief Line, and a few of the proposed lines, like parts of the Jane and Don Mills LRTs, were too difficult to build as surface rail projects. But because of Miller, the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT is well underway, and preliminary work continues on Finch Avenue West.

Work would have also started on the Scarborough RT replacement and expansion and the Sheppard East LRT, had Rob Ford not been elected in 2010, promising “subways, subways, subways” and burning the transit maps for which new projects were planned and being built. Seven funded LRT stops in Scarborough became three unfunded subway stops. Overestimating Rob Ford, and hoping to keep seats in Scarborough, the Liberal government folded to his demands, and work stopped on the LRT replacement.

Rob Ford’s disastrous term was followed by John Tory’s twin obsessions of SmartTrack and an austerity agenda, at a time when the Yonge and Bloor-Danforth subways were overwhelmed by demand caused by a growing population and a booming economy — hardly the conditions that demanded low spending on civic services and infrastructure and yet another half-baked transit plan.

smarttrack_fbSmartTrack map from the 2014 John Tory campaign

Tory promised that it would only take seven years to build SmartTrack, which would mostly use existing railway infrastructure, along with a new section of track in Etobicoke, on land already sold off for development. Tory’s insistence on SmartTrack further delayed momentum on the Relief Line. Though Tory remained committed to the Scarborough subway extension over the approved and funded LRT, it was reduced to a single stop as costs ballooned, while the subway and SmartTrack threatened to cannibalize each other. We don’t hear much about SmartTrack anymore, but at least Tory has come around on the Relief Line.

But Doug Ford’s latest musings make it clear why the planned subway upload is so dangerous.

19817903155_db9d9bb379_o.jpgCanada Line in Richmond, British Columbia

So what now for the Relief Line?

Despite the inevitable Simpsons monorail jokes (Doug Ford did promise a monorail on Toronto’s waterfront when he was a city councillor in 2011), the new technology the province is considering is likely an automated light metro line, similar to the Canada Line in Vancouver. The Canada Line links Vancouver’s city centre with the international airport and the suburb of Richmond. It was built as a private-public partnership (P3) project, in which a private company was contracted to design, build, and operate the line. It’s an attractive option for a conservative government: P3s promise to be cheaper to build and operate than a conventional public project.

But the Canada Line has problems. Though trains are frequent, it was built too small to accommodate growth. The outer terminals at Vancouver airport and Richmond-Brighouse are both single track/single platform. Station platforms are too short — only 40 metres long — to increase train sizes. And as many stations are underground, it’s too expensive to extending platforms to fit larger trains. Some relief is coming, but even then, the maximum capacity of the Canada line is 15,000 persons per direction per hour, far less than Vancouver’s SkyTrain lines or Toronto’s subway. If this is the route Toronto takes, it won’t be long before the Relief Line itself will need relief.

Once again, I fear that Toronto will continue to spin its wheels thanks to the Ford circus. And it’s a shame — though sadly not surprising — that Mayor Tory isn’t fighting back.

Categories
Brampton Politics

Why Brampton’s property taxes are high — and what it can do about it

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To effectively reduce its residential property tax rate, Brampton must diversify its tax base

It’s budget time for most municipalities in Ontario. Unlike cities elsewhere in the world — where municipalities can levy income, sales, and payroll taxes — places like Toronto, Ottawa, and Brampton rely on property taxes for most of their operating revenue, and they are complicated.

Toronto homeowners enjoy the cheapest property tax rates in the Greater Toronto Area, too low in fact to properly support city services like transit, housing, or adequate snow clearance.

Meanwhile, Brampton has some of the highest property tax rates in the city. A typical house in Brampton whose assessed value is $800,000 would be levied $8,284.73 in property taxes in Brampton. A similar house in suburban Scarborough or Etobicoke might be worth more, but the taxes on a house accessed at $1 million would be just $6,355.10.

While freezing property taxes might be popular, it isn’t a sustainable solution to high property taxes. A property tax freeze means that the city will not collect any additional tax revenue, regardless of new development or higher property assessments; unlike income and sales taxes, property tax revenue does not grow with the economy. Commercial and industrial property tax rates are higher, but Brampton doesn’t have enough of either land use compared to housing.

Brampton’s property tax issues are structural; tax cuts or freezes will not help. Having a diverse tax base, like Toronto’s, is a better solution, but it won’t be easy. I explain more in Bramptonist. 

Categories
Election Maps Politics Toronto

Voter turnouts in the 2018 Toronto municipal election

2014 was a watershed year for municipal voter turnout in Toronto. After a disastrous four years of Rob Ford as mayor, 54.7 percent of all eligible voters went to the polls, electing John Tory. That was the highest voter turnout in decades, even higher than 1997, when Torontonians elected Mel Lastman to lead a newly amalgamated City of Toronto. In 2010, when Rob Ford was elected mayor, turnout was 50.4 percent, compared to 39.3 percent in 2006 and 38.3 percent in 2000.

Four years ago, the mayoral race was especially competitive. Progressive Olivia Chow was the initial front-runner against Ford, but Tory (who previously ran for mayor in 2003) pulled ahead as Chow’s campaign floundered. Late in the campaign, Rob Ford dropped out due to health concerns, so his brother Doug took his place. Among the three frontrunners, Tory got 40.3 percent of the vote, while Doug Ford took 33.7 percent. Chow only got 23.1 percent. Voters also elected seven new councillors that year, and returned Rob Ford to Ward 2.

After two elections in which over half the number of eligible voters took part, in 2018 voter turnout fell to just 40.9 percent. This was hardly surprising. John Tory cruised to victory despite a challenge by former chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat, while a sudden reduction in the number of wards confused voters and crushed the hopes of many council hopefuls and their supporters.

Though 769,000 electors voted in this mess of an election, voter turnout varied across the city. In Ward 23, Scarborough North, only 34.1 percent of eligible voters turned out to the polls. In Ward 7, Humber River-Black Creek, just 34.6 percent of electors voted. Ward 10, Spadina-Fort York, had the third worst turnout, with just 34.8 percent.

Areas with the highest voter turnout were Midtown and east end Toronto. Ward 14, Toronto-Danforth had the highest turnout, where 49.2 percent of electors cast a vote. It was followed by Ward 15 and Ward 12 (both of which had 48.5 percent turnout) and Ward 19, where 48.4 percent of electors went to the polls.

Wards 12, 14, 15, and 19 had interesting and competitive council races. In Ward 14, the race featured two progressive incumbents, while Ward 19 was one of just two races in which an established city councillor was not running for re-election. Wards 12 and 15 also had competitive races. However, in Ward 4, Gord Perks won re-election easily.

Yet Ward 23 had an open council race in which no incumbent was running. And Ward 7 was one of the most interesting and important races of 2018; this is where Giorgio Mammoliti was finally defeated after years of campaign violations, buffoonery, and embarrassments.

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2018 voter turnout by ward (alternate version available here)

Voter turnout has consistently been low in Toronto’s northwest and northeast corners. In 2014, Ward 8 and Ward 41 (which made up parts of new Wards 7 and 23) had the lowest numbers of electors casting a vote. Turnout was highest in more affluent neighbourhoods, especially in places like Midtown Toronto, the Kingsway neighbourhood in Etobicoke, and in Toronto’s East End. What surprised me mostly was the poor turnout in Ward 10 in 2018.

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2014 voter turnout by ward (alternate version available here)

The difference in voter turnout across the city is more apparent at the neighbourhood level. With the poll-level results available through Toronto’s Open Data Catalogue, I allocated the poll results to each of Toronto’s 140 neighbourhoods, while adjusting the numbers based on the number of votes cast in the advance polls in each ward. The map below shows voter turnout at the neighbourhood level in 2018.

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2018 voter turnout by neighbourhood (alternate version available here)

What is immediately apparent is that voter turnout is highest in many neighbourhoods surrounding Toronto’s downtown core, while turnout is lowest in the former City of York, in northwestern Toronto and parts of Scarborough. Areas of high voter turnout tend to be affluent neighbourhoods with high levels of home ownership. These neighbourhoods include the Kingsway, Lawrence Park, Leaside, Cabbagetown, Rosedale, Forest Hill, Swansea, the Beaches, and Leaside. Many of these areas also have active residents’ associations. With Ryerson professor Myer Siemiatycki, I looked at the results of previous municipal election voter turnouts in a report published by the Maytree Foundation.

Downtown, areas with major condominium developments also have lower turnout, especially in places like the Waterfront, CityPlace, Liberty Village, and the Bay Street corridor. These areas are more likely to have younger residents and many renters. Engaging voters both in downtown condos and those living in the inner suburbs remains a challenge. While voter turnout was much higher in 2014 across the city, the same basic patterns are evident.citydata-nabes-turnouts-2014.jpg
2014 voter turnout by neighbourhood (alternate version available here)